Anyone who has a pet knows what a big role they play in one’s life. This being said, when I was growing up, the only pets I had were turtles or fish, and I was perfectly content this way. I liked having pets that you did not have to directly interact with, and that you could take care of without having to entertain or show affection to. Although I loved every pet I had, I never really understood just how much you could love an animal and how much they could love you back, and what a great effect they could have on your life. This all changed my freshman year of high school, however, when my family and I had a very special visitor in our backyard.

It was September of 2011. As I was getting ready for school one morning, my mom told me to hurry downstairs because there was something she needed to show me. Once I got there, I followed her outside and looked down into our backyard to find a cat laying on one of the chairs outside our shed, looking like she was just relaxing. As the days went by, we saw the cat more and more often, until, one day, we looked outside our backdoor to see her sitting there, looking in at us. We went over to the door, and she began rubbing her head against the screen, wanting us to pet her. This was when we noticed something that we did not expect—she was declawed, so she probably someone’s pet.

A few days later, we took her to a vet to see if anyone had been looking for a lost cat, or if she had a chip to be able to see who she belonged to. From everything that they could possibly find, she did not belong to anyone, but she had obviously been a house cat at some point to have been declawed. At this point, we knew that we could not let her live outside, because she had no way to defend herself without claws. After a few more vet visits and a family discussion that was not too long, we ultimately decided to adopt her, having no idea at the time what a big impact she would have on our lives.

Juke, which we came to name her, became an incredibly large part of our family. She loved everyone she met, was gentle and sweet, and wanted nothing more than to eat, sleep, play with her strings, and snuggle. I truly believe that she was not like most other cats—I never once heard her growl or hiss, and she never went to bite anyone, ever. You really would have needed to meet her to understand, but we all thought of her as more of a person than a cat. It was not long at all before we could not imagine our lives before she came into them.

This past April, we had to make the indescribably tough decision to put Juke down after we discovered that she had lymphoma. In the four years that she was a part of our family, she showed us all the level of unconditional love that develops between people and their pets. We all truly believe that she came to us for a reason, and that there is nothing like the feeling that not only did we rescue her, but that she rescued and helped us, too. Even though we miss her, we are so thankful that she came to us, and chose us to love.

Now, after many months of talking about it, my family and I decided to adopt two kittens, whom we named Salvatore and Valentino. Though they are not biological brothers, the same cat raised them, and they do not know life without each other, so we could not even fathom separating them. While I can honestly say that I was reluctant at first to adopt new kittens, because I would always compare them to Juke in my mind, I am so glad we did. When you go to the shelters and see all the cats there looking for a home, it makes you want to adopt them all. Although choosing only two was hard, I think we picked the perfect ones.

We have only had Sal and Tino for about a month now, and we already are surprised we waited so long to choose to adopt again. We love them more than we could have thought possible. There is nothing like seeing them come running up to you because they are so happy to see you the second they see you get up in the morning and the second you get home at the end of the day. Even if they do something wrong, which they do quite often since they are only a few months old and are just learning, they immediately want to make it up to you by sitting on your lap or wanting to follow you around just to be with you. It is like they want to prove to you that love you even more than you love them, if that is even possible.

It is amazing the love that you develop for a pet, and, them for you. It is a feeling that is one-of-a kind and something that everyone should experience in one way or another. Until I experienced it for myself, I never could have thought that having my cats would mean so much to me. I know that Juke, Sal, and Tino are all everlasting members of my family that I truly love with all my heart. I cannot even believe that I had no interest in having cats at one time, because, now, I can wholeheartedly say that I do not know what I would do without them.